On June 16, 2012, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) will have six teams of national engineers competing for $1.5 M worth agency-funded prize. The event will be represented by NASA Chief Technologist Mason Peck and NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. The inaugural event will be held within the campus facility of WPI in Worcester. Garver will attend this event along with congressional and local officials.
The Sample Return Robot challenge will be conducted as part of NASA's Centennial Challenges prize competitions. The task is to design and build the next generation of autonomous robots that are capable of landscape exploration. The teams involved in the competition are expected to construct autonomous robotic system that can efficiently locate and gather a set of specific objects from a wide area and retrieve those planetary samples back to the starting zone.
The first phase of the competition requires a robot to autonomously navigate and fetch a pre-cached sample in just 15 min. Teams will compete for shares from a $50,000 total prize purse. The maximum winning value for a team is $5,000.
The second phase requires a robot to autonomously navigate and fetch more complex samples distributed over the roving area within a time limit not exceeding two hours, in addition to retrieving pre-cached samples. In this phase, the teams will compete for $1.5 M. The awards will be conferred based on the number of successful competing finalists and the number of points scored.
With such prize competitions, NASA can foster major technical challenges. These competitions will have an increasing number of a variety of organizations, individuals, and teams taking up a challenge of national or international significance. These challenges encourage private sector investment that is more than the cash value of the prize.